TRUMPED ! | UTE Review

American-style pickups hold all the cards when it comes to safe towing – Words and photography by Rob Randazzo

For vehicle buyers in Australia, the checklist of preferences is ever-changing. Today’s options are primed for safety as the highest priority, along with reliability, functionality and efficient aftersales service.

At the end of the second quarter of this year, the ute/cab-chassis segment toppled the small passenger-car segment to share the top position with the medium-SUV segment for highest sales in the Australian market.

However, it is the actual choice of ute that causes the most grief, particularly if one of the duties of your ute is to tow higher weights.

Delivery Magazine has made regular comment on advertised towing capacities promoted by manufacturers, as it is this specification that can make or break your new ute.

It is almost misleading the way some ute manufacturers sprout the towing prowess of their products – as they often ‘forget’ to stress that the quoted maximum towing capacity is for an empty vehicle.

Once you add a driver, passengers, optional accessories (driving lights, bullbar, roof racks, etc.), lunch from McDonalds drive-through, and some kit in the tub, the GVM (gross vehicle mass) rises, often close to the allowable maximum – and leaving a Big Mac off the lunch menu is not likely to make a big enough difference.

Into this mix you also need to add the often-considerable TBM (tow ball mass), which is the actual weight or down force imposed on the tow ball by anything hitched to it, as this could push the GVM to an illegal level.

It is this GVM that affects towing capabilities, as it has a direct impact on the legal GCM (gross combination mass), which is the total mass of a loaded trailer plus the total loaded mass of the vehicle to which it is hitched.

A typical example of a Japanese-style ute with a quoted towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes has a GVM of 3200 kg, and a GCM of 6000 kg. Simple maths confirms that something doesn’t add up here, and that this full-loaded ute can legally only tow 2.8 tonnes, including the actual weight of the trailer.

For the uninformed and unsuspecting buyer who chooses a ute with an advertised 3.5-tonne towing capacity to pull their 3.5-tonne GTM (gross trailer mass) plant trailer or caravan, the consequences could be catastrophic.

It is here that the Yankee option plays its hand, with the American-style pickups offering what the others can’t – unrivalled safety and comfort with the ability to tow just about anything!

Delivery Magazine makes no secret of its predilection for American muscle, and, after a long-term assessment, added a RAM 2500 as the flagship to its own fleet.

The RAM Truck range and the Chevrolet Silverado (both featured in this edition), are imported directly from the North American factories in left-hand-drive, and then remanufactured to right-hand-drive on a purpose-built production line in Melbourne. These options come with a nationwide, factory-backed, three-year/100,000 km warranty with roadside assistance for the period of the warranty.

Ford F-Trucks are remanufactured under full-volume Australian compliance regulations on several smaller production lines, but, like the RAM and Chev, adhere to the Full Volume Australian Design Rules and Motor Vehicle Standards Regulations 1989, and are audited by the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

Most F-Truck remanufacturers offer a three-year/100,000 warranty, but the full range of remanufactured Ford F-Series pickups can be purchased through Harrison F-Trucks, where they will carry a four-year/130,000 km warranty and three-year/100,000 roadside assistance.

The early F-100s, like our featured pickup, still turn heads on our roads today, and were followed by the reintroduction of the F-Series from 2001 to 2006 that were produced by Ford Motor do Brasil S.A. (Brazil).

Our featured Australian-built, 351 Cleveland-powered, 1954 F-100, Sno White, has been Gary Christie’s daily driver for 41 years, and serves to show the timeless ‘attitude’ of the F-Series’ design – it also shows the evolution.

For NSW Southern Highlands mechanic Sean Hannan, and his wife Jacqui, the choice of an American pickup was not one made lightly, or on compulsion.

Sean tested a wide variety of pickups, including the RAM 2500, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra, GMC Denali, Ford F-250 and Chev Silverado. However, he didn’t want a petrol-powered V8, and, at the time, two of the diesel options began to push ahead of the pack – the RAM 2500 and the Ford F-250.

Originally, Sean had his heart set on a RAM truck, but had heard that the 2500 range was up for a facelift in the near future, while the F-250 was a new model for Ford.

Being a mechanic, Sean had seen his fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly, and, after a great deal of research, and numerous visits to workshops of remanufacturers, the decision was made to purchase a brand-new Ford F-250 Platinum Super Duty from VDC (Vehicle Development Corporation) in Victoria.

“The main reason for looking beyond the Japanese-style utes was towing capacity. They are able to pull around 3.0-tonne, with some claiming 3.5-tonne, but none could tow 4.0 tonnes,” said Sean.

“With a new caravan loaded to a GTM of 3.7 tonnes, or our full-size ski boat to tow, traditional utes just could not do the job, and light trucks didn’t have the comfort levels we wanted”.

After owning his new F-250 for ten months, Sean is more than happy with his decision, saying, “I love it, and it does everything asked of it. In fact, the only thing I don’t like is getting out of it.

“We recently had two pallets with four 44-gallon drums of oil on each in the back, and, other than seeing them in the mirrors, didn’t even notice they were there as we came up Mount Ousley from Wollongong.

“It fits one pallet easily between the wheelarches, and, you can get two pallets in, but you have to leave the tailgate down. The bed extenders (removable sides around the tailgate) help to make extended loads much safer,” said Sean.

The options list for the F-250 is extensive, to say the least, with Sean saying, “This came as a fully-loaded truck. About the only major things we didn’t tick on the order form were the tonneau cover and the bullbar. I wanted an aluminium electric roller-type cover, which we have now fitted, and didn’t want to spoil the looks with a bullbar”.

Discussing safety and comfort, Sean said, “The inside is supremely comfortable and rivals our BMW X5. However, it is a truck, so it can transfer some vibration on certain sections of road when running empty at highway speeds, especially the section of Federal Highway around Lake George (near Canberra) where the road surface is rippled and poor quality.

“It’s all the little things that make this truck so special. We don’t have to worry about towing mirrors, as the heated side mirrors are fully electric and can be extended out to see past anything being towed. It has all the crash avoidance systems, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, ABS and everything else expected from a luxury car.

“If we ever get pulled over to have our GCM checked while towing the van, which the authorities are doing, I know our weights are going to be perfect”.

Intelligent Access with keyless entry and push-button start is commonplace these days, but Sean’s pickup has a SecuriCode keyless entry keypad in each B-pillar, enabling access by tapping a unique and changeable code into the keypad.

Powered by a 6.7-litre Power Stroke V8 turbodiesel through a TorqShift heavy-duty six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, the F-250 Platinum produces 328 kW of power at 2800 rpm and a massive 1253 Nm of torque at just 1800 rpm.

It has a wheelbase of 4064 mm under a body that measures 6350 mm long, 2032 mm wide and 2070 high. Ginormous, by anybody’s standards, the F-250 needs 16 metres to do a full circle – amazing when compared to the much smaller Mercedes-Benz X250d ute that requires 13.4 metres.

With a GVM of 4491 kg, the F-250 Super Duty can be driven on a standard car licence. The body and tub of the F-250 are built from military-grade aluminium, which is supported by a fully-boxed, high-strength steel ladder frame that Ford says makes this the strongest Super Duty frame ever. The result is an F-Truck that’s up to 24 times stiffer than previous generations, which aids ride quality, steering and towing ability.

Payload is 1520 kg and the towing capacity is a massive 5670 kg, depending on hitch type and ball size. The 128.7-litre fuel capacity (and 10-litre AdBlue tank) means venturing off-road can be enjoyed with confidence, limited only by the long wheelbase and shock absorber travel. Sean opted for the FX4 Off-Road Package that includes hill descent control, plus transfer case and fuel tank skid plates.

Sean’s big Ford is packed with standard features to assist with hauling big loads: such as the heavy-duty trailer hitch receiver with twin trailer connectors, front stabiliser bar, hill-start assist, integrated trailer brake controller, stationary elevated idle control (SEIC), a trailer hook-up light, trailer sway control, and, in the case of Sean’s SWB truck, a tub that measures 2080 mm long, 1699 mm wide and 536 mm deep, with 1283 mm between the arches, to give a cargo volume of 1.852 cubic metres. A long-wheelbase model with a 2400 mm tub is also available.

The list of standard comfort, safety and security features is also extensive and includes electronic stability control with roll stability control, a Sony radio with CD/MP3 system including ten speakers and all input options.

MyKey individualised keys automatically alter specific features for each driver, with front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, a full Ford Safety Canopy System with roll-fold side-curtain airbags (front and rear), four-wheel vented disc with anti-lock brake system (ABS), SecuriLock Passive Anti-Theft System and child seat tether points in all rear seating positions.

The SOS Post-Crash Alert System will automatically dial 000 in the case of a serious accident, and for added safety information there’s a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS), a perimeter alarm, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto high beam, a camera and spotlight in each heated side mirror, and configurable daytime running lights.

Even with a list of standard features to rival most top-end passenger cars and SUVs, Sean went further and added Ford’s Intelligent Oil-Life Monitor; heavy-duty gas shock absorbers; limited-slip rear axle; quad-beam light-sensing LED headlights; LED taillights and tub lighting; rain-sensing wipers; voice-activated dual-zone automatic air conditioning with steering-wheel controls; full leather seats (front and back) with ten-way adjustment front captain’s chairs that include heating, cooling and massage functions, and a heated rear bench seat with armrests – rear inflatable seatbelts that incorporate an airbag in each seatbelt are also available as an option.

With electric side steps that automatically lower when the doors open, electric-opening and closing tailgate, and 360-degree camera coverage, the list of options and additions appears to be almost endless, requiring plenty of dedicated reading time for the buyer to acquaint themselves with just how much is on offer. Safety is the central focus, and the end result far outweighs any potential challenge from the one-tonne ute brigade that hails from Japan, Thailand, South Korea or Western Europe.

At cost of $160,000 (plus on-road costs), Sean’s fully-optioned truck might raise some eyebrows and drop a few jaws, but, with the comfort and safety levels of a luxury car, power of a prime mover, the highest torque rating in its class, greater diversity than an SUV, and higher payload and towing capacity than any Japanese-style ute on the market, it is truly exceptional value.

With 64 years of evolution between Gary’s and Sean’s pickups, we can only wonder what we will see in the next 64 years.

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